A Critical Analysis of Feminism.

“Anorexic:” Manifest from Flesh to Ribs
by Alicia Napierkowski

In “Anorexic,” by Eavan Boland, the speaker discusses the influence her sexual identity has on her self-image, both literally and metaphorically portraying the effects on the female body through anorexia. Imagery and symbolism of Christian morality, sexuality, and sin can be found parallel to the speaker’s descriptions of hunger, starvation, and food. Characterizing her body as a vehicle for sin, temptation, and greed concisely intensifies her punishment of denying her hungers as she places equivocal meaning between temptation, fulfillment, and “sweat and fat and greed” (47). The figurative and literal representations of the speaker’s self-image are depicted by anorexia, as a result of deeply routed aversion to her sexual identity.

The imagery presented by the speaker emphasizes the effects of Christianity morality upon her self-image, consequently destroying her physicality– specifically her genitals to seek redemption. The story of Adam and Eve coincides with lines 19–27, and continues to reflect her disdain of patriarchal obligation:

Thin as a rib I turn in sleep. My dreams probe a claustrophobia a sensuous enclosure. How warm it was and wide
once by a warm drum, once by the song of his breath and in his sleeping side. (“Anorexic” 21–27)

Condemning herself for being a descendant of temptation, the speaker annihilates her breasts, hips, and health throughout the poem by starvation to control the temptation and sin associated with her sexual identity in an effort to seek holiness. Consistent with the first line, “Flesh is heretic,” the speaker correlates her body with sin and nourishing it would contribute to this sinful act of sustenance (1).

By denying her hunger, the speaker metaphorically correlates this as a sacrifice to reach perfection by separating her soul and body; furthermore, the male and female dichotomy which is causing her damnation. This self-inflicted illness, which physically causes her weakness and plunges her into a dreamlike state, contrarily empowers her as she is controlling her desires and willfully rejecting temptation. Perceiving her self-denial as a sign of strength, her testimony against the depiction of women as weak is made apparent through her resistance to her body’s needs. The speaker’s bodily decline becomes an angry resistance to the subjection she endures as a woman; therefore, surrendering her independent physical existence to the anguish it encompasses as presented in heavy, concise word choice:

Only a little more, only a few more days sinless, foodless, I will slip back into him again as if I had never been away. Caged so I will grow angular and holy past pain, (28–37)

This reconciliation to return as a rib within ‘him’ is the speaker’s self-recognition that she has reached perfection, and is holy enough to exist once again without female subjectivity and the guilt and “fat” it has caused (42).

Extreme aversion to the speaker’s self-image as depicted in “Anorexic,” is characterized by a severe separation between her mind and body. Identifying herself with her disease catalyzes her self-loathing as undeserving of sustainment, beauty, and empowerment. Within this hatred, the speaker perceives her decision to deny herself of wholesomeness as a controlling means to reach a sense of worth and achievement:

Flesh is heretic.
My body is a witch.
I am burning it.
Yes I am torching
her curves and paps and wiles.
They scorch in my self denials. (1–6)

By glorifying her starvation, hatred, and abrasive determination to “burn” her flesh to punish herself for womanhood, the speaker seeks detachment from the burden of sexual temptation, and beauty portraying her breasts, hips, and genitals as the fuel, which will enable this fire to burn (3). As she disconnects from her physical obligation, she seeks her simplification as just a bone, able to return to its origin, free of sin.

The construct of “Anorexic,” by Eavan Boland, is a lyrically blunt, fervent testimony of the speaker’s detest toward herself and her coinciding moral connections, which further ignite her conceptions. Her manifest to destroy herself as a virtuous act, alongside her denial of hunger and nourishment are both expressed throughout her symbolism and actuality of starvation. This act of disfiguration paired with the reward of perfection and holiness carry the speaker through her denials, temptations, identity, and disease.

Alicia Napierkowski is a freelance writer and designer. She has been published in The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, as well as across Medium. You can find a complete list of her work at alicianapierkowski.com.
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“Anorexic.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Jennifer Smith and Elizabeth Thomason. Vol. 12. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 1–15. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

Boland, Eavan. “Anorexic.” The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English. By Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar. New York: W.W. Norton, 1985. N. pag. Print.

Myers, Anna, and Esther D. Rothblum. “Dedication to Hunger: The Anorexic Aesthetic in Modern Culture.” Signs 25.2 (2000): 584. Literature Resource Center. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

Vanbuskirk, Alison Kendall. “Anorexia As A Path To Redemption: An Examination Of Boland’s Anorexic.” Explicator 66.1 (2007): 55. MAS Ultra — School Edition. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.